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Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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After being a multi-bid league in 2015, the Missouri Valley Conference could be a one-bid league once again if Wichita State wins the autobid in St. Louis. The Shockers won the conference’s regular season title by four games and the senior backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker is as experienced as any in the country.

Evansville is the No. 2 seed with two first-team, all-conference players while Illinois State and Northern Iowa have both defeated Wichita State during the conference season. If one of those teams beats Wichita State and wins the autobid, the Missouri Valley Conference could be a two-bid league.

The Bracket 

MBB_Bracket

When: March 3-6

Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis

Final: March 6, 1:00 p.m. (CBS)

[   MORE: All of NBCSports.com’s conference tournament previews   ]

Favorite: Wichita State

The Shockers only lost two conference games all season and boast the nation’s most experienced backcourt in Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Wichita State had some early bumps in the road when VanVleet was hurt, but they’ve been soundly beating most opponents in conference play and look like a potentially dangerous team this March.

And if they lose?: Evansville

The Purple Aces have the No. 2 seed and the league’s best inside/outside combination in senior guard D.J. Balentine and center Egidijus Mockevicius, the nation’s leading rebounder this season. Evansville has yet to beat Wichita State this season but has the talent to do so.

Other Contenders:

  • Illinois State: Good enough to beat any team in the league, Illinois State is a very dangerous matchup in Arch Madness, led by senior DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell.
  • Northern Iowa: The Panthers already beat Wichita State on the road and would matchup well with them in the semifinals.

Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year: Fred VanVleet, Wichita State

We saw how important the senior point guard was to the Shockers when they went 0-3 without him against Division I opponents earlier this season. VanVleet was tremendous in conference play, leading the Valley in assists and steals and having a great 4.0 assist/turnover ratio. He was also top-ten in conference play in free-throw percentage and 3-point percentage and was the most important player on the best team.

Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

After the Shockers got off to a sluggish start thanks to injuries, they turned things around when they got healthy and ran away with the league’s regular season title, winning by four games. Almost all of Wichita State’s wins came by double digits this season and they’re blowing out most opponents.

First-Team All-Missouri Valley League:

  • Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville
  • D.J. Balentine, Evansville
  • Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
  • Ron Baker, Wichita State
  • Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois

CBT Prediction: Wichita State over Illinois State

Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Belmont's Evan Bradds tries to shoot with Marquette's Luke Fischer defending during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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The Ohio Valley was one of the most competitive conferences in the country this season, as six teams finished with double-figure league victories, all of whom were within just two games of first place. Parity always leads to a wild tournament.

Right?

Right.

The Bracket 

2016 OVC Men's Basketball Tournament Bracket

When: March 2, 3, 4 and 5

Where: Municipal Auditorium, Nashville

Final: March 5th, 5:00 p.m.

Favorite: Belmont

Not only did the Bruins win the league, but they’ll be playing the OVC tournament in their own backyard in Nashville. And if head coach Rick Byrd has taught us anything about his tenure with the Bruins, it’s that we probably should not be betting against him winning. This year’s squad is typical Belmont: a star guard (Craig Bradshaw) flanked by a myriad of shooters to surround an uber-efficient post presence in Evan Bradds. The Bruins, if they get to the tournament, will even be a threat to win a game there. They have the best offense in the league and own wins at Murray State and over Valparaiso in Nashville.

And if they lose?: Morehead State

The Eagles do three things well that will make them dangerous in tournament situations: they force a lot of turnovers, they get a lot of offensive rebounds and they shoot the three ball well. Extra possessions in a one-and-done tournament setting are huge, especially when a team is playing well and hitting shot from the perimeter. Should I mention that the Eagles won in a row to close out the regular season?

Other Contenders

  • Murray State: There are a lot of new faces on the Racers this season, but there is a reason that this program has had such a sustained run of success.
  • Tennessee State: Dana Ford’s club was the best defensive team in the league and has one of the best 1-2 punches in Keron DeShields and Tahjere McCall.
  • UT-Martin: Winning their division was monumental, as they get a bye to the semifinals.

OVC Player of the Year: Evan Bradds, Belmont

Bradds is one of the most efficient players in college basketball, consistently finishing among the leaders nationally in field goal percentage. He shot better than 70 percent from the floor every year since he arrived at Belmont. His ability as a low-post scorer forces opponents to decide whether they want to double him to get the ball out of his hands, opening up the shooters on Belmont’s perimeter, or let him go one-on-one in the post, where he’s near-unstoppable.

OVC Coach of the Year: Dana Ford, Tennessee State

All due respect to the rest of the conference, there wasn’t much competition for Ford here. The Tigers won five games all season long in 2014-15. This year, Ford brought in a slew of new pieces, turned TSU into the best defensive team in the conference and finished tied for second in the conference standing, a game behind Belmont.

First-Team All-OVC:

  • Evan Bradds, Belmont
  • Chris Horton, Austin Peay
  • Twymond Howard, Tennessee-Martin
  • Craig Bradshaw, Belmont
  • Torrance Rowe, Tennessee Tech

CBT Prediction: Belmont is heading back to the dance.

Northeast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Wagner coach Bashir Mason talks to guard JoJo Cooper (5) during the first half against Cincinnati in an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
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The Northeast Conference has a heavy favorite in the conference tournament thanks to one team being superior and the deck being stacked in favor of the No. 1 seed. Wagner, the conference’s only 20-win team, is in prime position to at least make the championship game thanks to the favorable format the NEC tournament has with top seeds.

Not only do the Seahawks (20-9, 13-5) get home games in each game as the highest seed, but after the tournament quarterfinals, the tournament redraws seeds so that Wagner will once again play the lowest seed left in the semifinals. That leaves them in better position than the No. 2 through No. 4 seeds — who also get home games in the quarterfinals. Fairleigh Dickinson, Sacred Heart and St. Francis (NY) are the other top seeds. The winner of this conference tournament is likely facing a No. 16 seed and potential First Four game in Dayton.

The Bracket  

bracket16_mbb_wbb

When: March 2, 5 and 8

Where: Campus sites, with the higher seed hosting every game.

Final: March 8, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)

[   MORE: All of NBCSports.com’s conference tournament previews   ]

Favorite: Wagner

The only 20-win team in the conference, the Seahawks are riding a five-game winning streak and own homecourt advantage throughout the NEC tournament. A balanced team that can defend well for its level, Wagner has a lot of pieces that can hurt you, led by sophomore guard Corey Henson (13.5 ppg) and junior wing Michael Carey (12.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg).

And if they lose?: Fairleigh Dickinson

The Knights have been a confusing team, full of road wins over the league’s better teams and home losses to those same teams. Fairleigh Dickinson still has one of the league’s top duos in a pair of sophomores, guard Darian Anderson (14.8 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.3 rpg) and wing Earl Potts Jr. (14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg).

Other Contenders:

  • Sacred Heart: The Pioneers have won nine of 12 games to earn the No. 3 seed and Cane Broome can really score.
  • St. Francis: Winners of four consecutive games, the Terriers get a home game early and offer a balanced scoring effort.

Northeast Conference Player of the Year: Cane Broome, Sacred Heart

The sophomore guard was the league’s best scorer and it wasn’t even close. In conference games, Broome led the NEC in scoring by over seven points a game over second place. He was also top ten in league play in assists, steals, free throw percentage and tops in minutes. The 6-foot-0 guard was held to single-digit scoring one time all season and it came against UConn. Broome’s turnover numbers are high and his shooting percentages can improve but he’s an offensive force in most games.

Northeast Conference Coach of the Year: Bashir Mason, Wagner

The 30-year-old Mason is finding some early success in his career as he’s won at least 19 games and 12 NEC games in three of his four seasons as head coach at Wagner. At one time the youngest head coach in Division I men’s basketball, Mason has a chance to make his first NCAA tournament with Wagner with a win in the conference tournament.

First-Team All-Northeast League:

  • Cane Broome, Sacred Heart
  • Michael Carey, Wagner
  • Jerome Frink, LIU
  • Martin Hermannsson, LIU
  • Darian Anderson, Fairleigh Dickinson

CBT Prediction: Wagner over Fairleigh Dickinson

Atlantic Sun Tournament Preview and Conference Postseason Awards

North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll speaks with guard Dallas Moore during the second half of an NCAA  college basketball game against Illinois at the Prairie Capital Convention Center on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, in Springfield, Ill. North Florida defeated Illinois 93-81. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
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The Atlantic Sun has had quite a bit of tournament success in recent years. Mercer, who has since left the conference, picked off No. 3 seed Duke in the 2014 tournament while FGCU became #DunkCity after the Eagles flew to the Sweet 16 with wins over No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 10 seed San Diego State.

The conference didn’t have many marquee wins during the regular season, but they did pick off a couple high-major program. North Florida won at Illinois. NJIT beat St. John’s in Carnesecca Arena. FGCU got UMass at home. And while none of those teams are tournament teams, it is a sign that this league, in general, may be more competitive than you may think. Can you say ‘Upset City’?

The Bracket 

2016_MBB_Bracket

When: March 1, 3 and 6

Where: Campus sites, hosted by the higher seed

Final: March 6th, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: North Florida

The Ospreys won a competitive conference that plays a true, double round-robin league schedule by two full games. They’re the best team in the league, meaning that they get home court advantage through the tournament, and they’ve lost just a single game at home all season long. Throw in the fact that this group is one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks — you’d be hard-pressed to find a better back court at this level than Dallas Moore and Beau Beech — and you may want to get out of their way if their shots are going down.

And if they lose?: NJIT

It’s their first year in the conference, but I think NJIT can make a run. For starters, traveling all the way to New Jersey for a game is not an easy thing for teams located in the south to do, and the Highlanders will have home court throughout the tournament unless they get UNF in the title game. Then throw in the fact that this team A) Has one of the league’s best players in guard Damon Lynn and B) has beaten Michigan, Duquesne, South Florida and St. John’s in the last two years, and it’s not difficult to picture them making a run.

Other Contenders

  • FGCU: The Eagles are arguably the most talented team in the conference, but they’ll have to lock horns with UNF in the semis if they win.
  • Kennesaw State: Al Skinner’s Owls struggled for much of the season, but they were the hottest team in the league down the stretch, winning four of their last five games.

Atlantic Sun Player of the Year: Dallas Moore, North Florida

More was the best player on the best team in the conference, which, generally speaking, is usually enough to earn an award like this. He led the conference in scoring (19.7 points) and assists (6.1). This wasn’t a difficult pick.

Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year: Al Skinner, Kennesaw State

On Jan. 23rd, the Owls, who were picked to finish last in the league in the preseason, were 3-16 against Division I opponents, but Skinner was able to turn things around down the stretch. KSU won six of their last nine games to get to .500 in league play, which is A) something that has not happened for this program since 2007 and B) tied for the best record the Owls have ever had in the league as a Division I program. In the previous four seasons, KSU had a total of nine league wins.

First-Team All-Atlantic Sun:

  • Dallas Moore, North Florida
  • Damon Lynn, NJIT
  • Kendrick Ray, Kennesaw State
  • Beau Beech, North Florida
  • Marc-Eddy Naurelia, FGCU

CBT Prediction: North Florida protects their home court and earns the automatic bid.

WEEKEND PREVIEW: Saturday is the best day of non-conference hoops

London Perrantes, Marko Gujanicic, Anthony Gill
(AP Photo/Mic Smith)
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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 12 Villanova at No. 8 Virginia, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

We’ve reached something of a crossroads with this Villanova team. In the last two seasons, they’ve won 32 regular season Big East games, storming through the conference for back-to-back league titles. But in neither of those years have they found a way to play themselves out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. All of the numbers tell us that this team, this program, is one of the best in the country … except for when they are asked to play elite competition. Fair or not, with Villanova, it always feels like this is a team that fails to perform when the lights shine the brightest, and that was once again on display last week, when they flew out to Hawaii and got run out of the gym by Oklahoma.

That said, this Villanova team is, in theory, one that should be able to give Virginia some problems. They have big men that can pass, they can spread the floor and they have shooters up and down their lineup, although part of the reason for their early season struggles has been the inability to consistently his threes this season. On the other hand, Virginia still has just one loss on the season, they were dominant in the win over West Virginia at the Garden last week and their only loss — at No. 22 George Washington — doesn’t look all that bad. Another impressive win over a top 20 team will certainly be a statement.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 17 Butler vs. No. 9 Purdue, Sat. 5:00 p.m.

We knew the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Like Fieldhouse was going to be a fun event, but back when the season began, it seemed like the matchup between Indiana and Notre Dame was going to be the highlight of the double-header. Yogi Ferrell vs. Demetrius Jackson! An ACC power vs. a Big Ten power! And while there’s an argument to be made that it is still the more important of the two games — both the Hoosiers and the Irish desperately need this win — the nightcap has clearly become the better basketball game.

Butler’s reputation over the years has been as a grind-it-out, tough, physical defensive team. Not this year. They run, they score a ton of points and they’re the sixth-most efficient offense in the country, according to KenPom. Purdue, on the other hand, is the nation’s best defensive team with the biggest front line. Butler’s strength is in their back court. There’s a lot going on here, but the bottom line is that it is must-see TV either way.

Jorden Kaufman, A.J. Hammons
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Bankers Life Fieldhouse won’t be the only NBA arena hosting a really good double-header this weekend, as the CBS Sports Classic will take place in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The opener is the more intriguing matchup, as No. 11 North Carolina squares off with No. 22 UCLA at 1:00 p.m. The game is made all the more interesting by the fact that Kennedy Meeks will not be playing, opening up the door for Tony Parker to be able to out-muscle Isaiah Hicks. There’s a real chance, based on the way that UCLA has been playing of late, that the Tar Heels will suffer their third loss of the season. The second game of the two will pit No. 4 Kentucky vs. Ohio State, a game the Wildcats should not have trouble with.
  2. It’s going to be a big day in New York for college hoops, as Utah will square off with No. 7 Duke at noon at the Garden. There is going to be a lot to keep an eye on here. For starters, this will be the first game against high level competition in which Duke will not have the services of Amile Jefferson, who broke a bone in his foot. Will Marshall Plumlee and Chase Jeter be enough to slow down Jakob Poeltl? The other part of it is that the Utes like to play four-around-one like Duke does, meaning they won’t be able to take advantage of Duke’s lack of a true power forward in the paint. But since they also don’t have a pure point guard, it is going to be interesting to see how they fare against the pressuring, half court man-to-man defense that Duke throws at teams.
  3. UNLV had looked like they had shaken off all the issues they’ve had with execution and under-performing in recent years … until they hosted Arizona State on Wednesday night. The Rebels blew a 14-point second half lead and ended up losing 65-55 to the Sun Devils. Now they have to travel down to Tucson to take on No. 13 Arizona, a team that has been surging of late. We’ll really find out what UNLV is made of this weekend.
  4. Perhaps the most interesting game of the day will be featured on NBCSN in a 12:30 p.m. ET tip as Michigan State, the No. 1 team in the country, will head up to Beantown to take on Northeastern in a true road game. How often does that happen? The game is part of another cool event that Spartan AD Mark Hollis dreamed up, as Michigan State will be playing a triple-header in men’s hoops, women’s hoops and hockey against the Huskies.

    CLICK HERE to watch this game on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.

  5. Not many people are going to be talking about this one — that’s what happens when games are played in Texas during football season — but No. 16 Baylor will make the trip to take on No. 24 Texas A&M. The Aggies have the size up front to handle Baylor’s bulk, but the Bears have enough talented perimeter defenders to deal with A&M’s quality guard play. The title of Best In Texas is on the line.

THREE MORE NOTABLES GAMES

Auburn at No. 10 Xavier, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
Wichita State at Seton Hall, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 23 Cincinnati at VCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET: Northern Iowa vs. No. 5 Iowa State, Sat. 7:00 p.m. (Des Moines)

As good as Iowa State has looked at times this season, and as talented as their starting five is, there are still people — myself included — who are doubting whether or not this is a team that can truly compete at the top of the Big 12 and for a national title. The concern is, mainly, depth, particularly behind Jameel McKay. Ben Jacobsen’s Northern Iowa team has already notched a win over North Carolina this season. Will they be able to hang another upset over a top five team?

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: Saturday will be the best day of college basketball this season to date, and, outside of March, it may be one of the best days of the entire season. There are in-state rivalry games. There are top 25 matchups in on-campus venues. There are bluebloods squaring off against each other in NBA arenas. Hell, the No. 1 team in the country is playing on the road against a mid-major that has already won a game in No. 15 Miami’s gym.

On paper, it looks awesome.

And while a schedule looking doesn’t always turn into a day of great games and wild finishes, at the very least we know that there is going to be something for us to talk about, something relevant that the public at-large will care about. It may not be Bo Ryan and it may not be Tony Bennett accepting the Wisconsin job, but with this number of quality basketball teams facing off against one another, we’re going to get some action. Buckle up, because it’s the first time since the Champions Classic that college basketball is can’t-miss TV.

ALSO ON THE SCHEDULE

Creighton at No. 3 Oklahoma, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
Oral Roberts at LSU, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
Tulsa at Oregon State, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
Tennessee at Gonzaga, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
Texas at Stanford, Sat. 11:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Davidson, Sun. 12:00 p.m.

Conference USA Preview: Look out for UAB this year

Georges Niang, William Lee
UAB's William Lee (AP Photo)
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Conference USA.

This version of Conference USA is not as strong as the Conference USA of old, the one that featured the likes of Marquette, Memphis, Cincinnati and Louisville, but while much of the league falls under the ‘mid-major’ label these days, there’s still enough talent at the top of the conference to throw a scare into some of the big boys.

Take, for example, UAB. The Blazers last season finished just a game above .500, but after a dreadful start to non-conference play, Jerod Haase’s group turned it on in the league. They went 12-6 in CUSA, won the league’s tournament title and knocked off Iowa State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Oh, and they return everyone from last year’s group, including leading scorer Robert Brown and William Lee, who will be one of this season’s break out stars.

A major reason for UAB’s late-season surge was Lee, who did not truly get healthy until late-January. A 6-foot-9 combo-forward, Lee can block shots, score around the rim and make plays on the perimeter. He’s got a chance to be a star this season, and he makes UAB a really dangerous mid-major.

But he may not even be the best player in the conference, as Old Dominion returns reigning CUSA Player of the Year Trey Freeman. Freeman was a major reason that the Monarchs were able to beat LSU, VCU, Richmond and Georgia State last year in addition to reaching the semifinals of the NIT. The Monarchs also return Aaron Bacote, and while they lose their starting front line, there will be some promising big bodies available. East Carolina transfer Brandon Stith could post double-double numbers while Denzell Taylor was sixth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage last season.

The consensus from those around the league is that UAB and ODU, in some order, will be the team to beat this season. But there are a number of teams that will have a shot at finishing in that No. 3 spot.

Middle Tennessee State returns the majority of their roster from a season ago. The team’s leading returning scorer is power forward Reggie Upshaw, but the name to watch out for is Perrin Buford. Buford, a JuCo transfer, scored in double-figures in 10 of his last 12 games and averaged 14.1 points over his final eight.

UTEP returns just one healthy player from their top six from last season — Earvin Morris — but it’s who they add that keeps Tim Floyd’s club in the mix for the top five. Oregon transfer Dominic Artis will likely take over point guard while top 100 freshman Brodericks Jones and JuCo addition Lee Moore will be counted on for big years.

If Aaron Cosby can return to being the player he was as a sophomore at Seton Hall, Western Kentucky should have a chance to finish in the top six. But that was three years and two teams ago. Louisiana Tech not only lost ‘Speedy’ Smith and Raheem Appleby, but head coach Mike White left for Florida as well. New head coach Eric Konkol will be relying heavily on Alex Hamilton this year.

The two x-factors will be Marshall and Rice. The Owls returns a veteran back court and adds a key transfer in Egor Koulechov as they will look to build on the momentum from a strong close to the season. Head coach Mike Rhoades is a Shaka Smart disciple.

The same can be said for the Thundering Herd, who started the year 2-15 against Division I opponents but, in league play, won seven out of ten at one point. Dan D’antoni, Mike’s brother, plays an uptempo, gun-slinging style, adds a number of shooters and brings back Ryan Taylor.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “Most will say UAB because they’re coming off of that tournament win, but I like Old Dominion, too. They have best guard group in the conference. Defensively, they’re really hard to score on and physically tough. Trey Freeman is the best point guard and leader in the league. It will come down to whether [Brandon Stith] can replace what they lost up front.”
  • Sleeper: “Rice. I think they have a chance to finish in the top couple spots. Marcus Jackson and Max Guercy are a veteran back court, and with the addition of Egor Koulechov from Arizona State, if he’s really good they’ve got a chance to be really good. Mike Rhoades has done a really good job, and last year they got better as the year went on. If they continue that momentum, look out.”
  • Star to watch: “UAB’s William Lee. He’s the best NBA prospect. The last month of the year, he was as good as anyone in the league. He’s a 6-foot-9 combo-forward that’s athletic and has three-point range. Given his versatility and his talent level, he could have a breakout year.”

PRESEASON CONFERENCE USA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trey Freeman, Old Dominion

Freeman was the best player in the conference last season, and after a full offseason of improvement, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be anything other than the same this year. Freeman is a scoring point guard that can breakdown a defense, but he’s also capable of making plays for his teammates. He’s the reason ODU has a real shot at unseating UAB at the top of the league.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON (insert league) TEAM:

  • William Lee, UAB: Lee, a 6-foot-9 combo-forward, averaged 11.9 points, 8.1 boards and 2.3 blocks while shooting 44.4 percent from three over the last 12 games. He wasn’t healthy until February, either.
  • Robert Brown, UAB: Brown was UAB’s star in March, averaging 18.2 points in five postseason games. The fifth-year senior is the engine that makes their offense run.
  • Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech: The lone returnee from last season’s dynamic back court, Hamilton should see an uptick in his total numbers this year.
  • Ryan Taylor, Marshall: Taylor averaged 14.1 points, 8.6 boards and 2.8 assists for the Thundering Herd last season playing the Draymond Green role in their uptempo offense.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @(link)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. UAB
2. Old Dominion
3. Middle Tennessee State
4. UTEP
5. Western Kentucky
6. Louisiana Tech
7. Rice
8. Marshall
9. Florida Atlantic
10. Florida International
11. Charlotte
12. North Texas
13. UTSA
14. Southern Miss